Small, Good Things: It’s All Relative

Mannheimer Apfelkuchen

Mannheimer Apfelkuchen

When is apple pie more than just apple pie?

The story begins with a man who grows apples — in this case my neighbor, an undisputed and generous master of the orchard. Next there’s the extended network of friends and family, adults and children, who gratefully harvest the fruits of his labor.

The choice of what to do with this bounty falls to the farmer’s gracious wife, who crowdsources recipes from another extensive group — including me — to land a selection that piques her interest.

A recent find, Mannheimer Apfelkuchen, or apple cake Mannheim-style, reflects an international scope new to the network, the recipe delivered in the form of a handwritten note from the German mother-in-law of a daughter, now living in Denmark with her German partner.

Here, a slight digression on apfelkuchen (“apple cake”), a family of recipes that includes suspiciously pie-like preparations differentiated by a shortcrust pastry dough more common to American pie, albeit in this case, with the addition of baking powder. The earliest reference that I could find in English was in a 1900 edition of The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, aka The Fannie Farmer Cook Book. It sketches more of a pie, in keeping with the use of the German kuchen, while the Mannheimer adjective indicates a distinctive additional step.

Mannheim-style seems to refer to a relatively common fruit pie (as this seems to be done with peaches and other fruit as well) baked to a halfway point, pulled from the oven and topped with a poured custardy, sweet almond cream (frangipane), and returned to the oven to finish baking. 

Mannheimer Apfelkuchen (slice)

The finished Mannheimer Apfelkuchen doesn’t require much in the way of accompaniment and is a perfectly fitting dessert to celebrate the opening salvo of the holiday season, centered on gratitude for the family and friends it took to make both a pie like this and life worth living.

Mannheimer Apfelkuchen

Serves 8

For the dough:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter cut in ⅛-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons ice water


  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds 

For the apples:

  • 3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup turbinado sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

For the almond cream:

  • 6 tablespoons cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract

For the dough: (This can be done up to a day ahead.)

1. Put dry ingredients in the bowl of food processor. Add butter and lemon zest. Pulse all until mixture resembles coarse meal. Do not overwork the mix.

2. Add the ice water and mix briefly (about 30 seconds) to form a soft, workable dough. Remove from processor bowl and shape into a thick disk. Wrap the dough in plastic; refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. 

To prepare the cake: 

3. When ready to proceed, remove dough from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside. Slice the apple quarters lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. (A mandoline makes quick work of this.) Reserve in a large bowl and drizzle with the lemon juice. 

4. Lightly flour a work surface and dust the dough lightly with flour. Roll dough to about a 10-inch round and press it into the prepared springform pan, evenly pulling up the edges. Sprinkle the surface lightly with some of the cinnamon sugar. (There should be plenty left and don’t feel like you have to use it all.)

5. Place overlapping apple slices (like the scales of a fish) in concentric circles on top of the dough and sprinkle with some of the cinnamon sugar. Place the pan in the preheated stove on the middle rack and bake for about 25 minutes.

6. While the kuchen bakes, mix the almond cream ingredients by hand in a medium bowl until smooth and well-blended. After 25 minutes in the oven, remove the cake and spoon the almond cream evenly over the kuchen. Return it to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes. At the 15-minute mark, scatter the sliced almonds over the almond cream with a dusting of cinnamon sugar and return to the oven for the final five minutes.

7. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Once it’s completely cool, run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform and slide the cake onto a serving plate. Slicing is a bit easier with a sharp, finely serrated blade and serving requires no further is embellishment.

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